I seem to have gone from one extreme to another lately. After a relatively relaxed October, November has been really busy, and in a good way. I appeared on TV and radio to raise awareness of digital accessibility, promoted audio description at a trade exhibition, learnt a great deal about Ancient Greece, explored London’s illuminated bridges, highlighted more scam emails, bought some new Blu-rays and music, and enjoyed various things on TV.
So there’s plenty to cover this month, and I hope you enjoy this post and video summary of it all. As always, I haven’t received any gifts or payments by anyone mentioned in this post, and all opinions are my own.
Without doubt my biggest accomplishment this month, perhaps even of the entire year, was my first ever TV appearance, coupled with my first ever appearance on British radio. This was something I hadn’t anticipated happening, but it was a great experience being featured in the media to raise awareness of an important topic.
Disability charity Scope have released the findings of their survey on inclusive design, which illustrates the impact of poor digital access. When disabled people encounter problems with websites, apps and self-service technology like checkouts, 50% won’t buy anything and 48% will go to a competitor. Yet there are 13.9 million disabled people in the UK with a spending power of £274 billion a year, also known as the Purple Pound. So businesses are really missing out on our custom by not being accessible.
Common problems include poor colour contrast between the text and background, fixed text sizes that don’t increase with the user’s accessibility settings, missing image descriptions and form labels for screen reader users, missing captions on videos, etc. If businesses were to fix things like this, it would make a huge difference to us and them.
Scope have therefore launched The Big Hack, a comprehensive online resource advising businesses on best practice for digital accessibility and inclusion. And to help them raise awareness, they invited me to take part in some media coverage, which you can check out at the following links:
- Radio – Tech Tent, BBC World Service, 29 November – Jump to 13:08. I was interviewed by Rory Cellan-Jones, along with James Taylor from Scope. You’ll need a free account on the BBC site, or search for Tech Tent in your podcast app.
- TV – Channel 5 News, 2 December – I was interviewed by Claudia-Liza Armah, along with Krissie Barrick from Scope. A captioned version is available on Twitter & Facebook.
- Newspaper – The Independent, 2 December – I was given a mention in this article. Registration is required, but doing so allows you to read 1 free article per month, or you can pay a small subscription to read more.
Check out my blog post – The Big Business of Digital Accessibility – for much more information about the campaign and my media appearances. Many thanks to everyone at Scope, BBC News and 5 News who looked after me so well during my brief moments of stardom!
A lot of time this month was spent learning about the Parthenon from Ancient Greece. Dr Ellen Adams from King’s College London put together a special course for visually impaired and blind people, featuring audio description, tactile images and object handling, and it was really interesting. Although we had covered Ancient Greece a bit in school, I don’t remember it, and have never looked into it since. So it was great to learn more about one of its most iconic buildings in such an accessible and detailed way.
Over 2 weekends, we had a couple of afternoon sessions at King’s College London, where we handled models of The Parthenon and the Athena statue, and felt tactile drawings of the building and a selection of sculptures from the big frieze around its perimeter, all with very useful audio description by Dr Adams.
We also explored 2 paintings – Reconstruction of the Acropolis and Areopagus in Athens by Leo von Klenze from 1846, and Phidias Showing the Frieze of the Parthenon to his Friends by Lawrence Alma-Tadema from 1868. We looked at enlarged photocopies of these artworks as they were described in wonderful detail by Karly Allen, plus we had simplified tactile drawings to help us focus on key elements. It really did give us a full appreciation of the amount of detail in those paintings.
Amongst all of this, Dr Adams was telling us about the history and design of the building, including the story of the Elgin Marbles of course. And in the first session we were also joined by Fiona Slater, Equality & Diversity Manager at the British Museum, so it was lovely that she got involved as well.
We also had a touch tour of room 18B at the British Museum. This is a special room in their Parthenon gallery where everybody can touch an extensive cast replica of part of the frieze that surrounded the Parthenon, along with a model of the building itself, and some actual stone from the structure.
Then most recently in December we finished the course by returning to the museum for a session handling antiquities from the period. It was an exciting privilege to handle items dating back as far as the 5th and 6th centuries BC, which are very well preserved, with beautiful designs on them. So that was a very special way to finish the course.
And to supplement all of that, I went back to the museum on my own during November to look at the entire Parthenon gallery in more detail, as the sessions we’d had up to that point had given me a much clearer understanding of what I was looking at. There is a huge amount to see there, especially in the big main room, where you’re surrounded by a huge section of the Parthenon frieze with its hundreds of different sculptures. You can’t touch anything here, but it’s still really good to look at it all, it’s very impressive indeed.
The writing on the various object panels was too difficult for me to read, but I did pick up the audio descriptive guide from the desk at the museum entrance, because it includes descriptions for a few of the exhibits, as marked on a sign next to them. They can’t describe every item, but the highlights they’ve chosen are important and interesting ones. Unfortunately that audio descriptive guide doesn’t include the more general commentaries of a much wider selection of objects that you can get in their standard audio guide, so that’s a shame. But the audio descriptions that they do have available are still really useful.
So altogether it was a wonderfully comprehensive and interesting course. Naturally I’m not going to remember every single detail we learnt, but with the audio and touch descriptions, tactile images, object handling, and museum tours, we got a really thorough insight into the Parthenon in a very accessible way, which I really enjoyed. So thank you to Dr Ellen Adams, Karly Allen and Fiona Slater for helping out with it.
Sight Village is an annual event, which I’ve previously attended in 2016 & 2017, where organisations and charities showcase the latest products, technology and services available for visually impaired and blind people.
In the past I’ve just been as a regular consumer, looking at what was on offer. But for one day this time I was on the stand for VocalEyes, who provide audio descriptions for theatre shows, museum tours, and so on. It was a great opportunity to talk to visitors about my experiences of using audio description, as it’s made the world of art and culture so accessible to me. We met some people who already knew about the service, along with some who didn’t and were interested in signing up to the mailing list, so we had a nice mixture of visitors.
I was on the stand with Charlie Morris from the charity. And as it happened, we were also right next to the stand for my old school, WESC Foundation, manned by Richard Ellis, who I know well, So it was wonderful chatting to both Charlie and Richard during the day, when we had quiet moments without visitors. And I did put aside an hour to have a little wander around the exhibition too, just to see what else was around.
After the exhibition closed I also had a great meetup with the Aniridia Network. We also try to do this after Sight Village every year, and this time we met for drinks at Pret before moving on for a nice meal at Bill’s. So that was a lovely way to relax after a busy day.
Check out my Sight Village 2019 blog post for a more detailed review, including a full list of the exhibitors.
Illuminated River is a huge art project that will ultimately see 15 bridges along the Thames brought to life with a variety of subtly animated lighting installations. And currently 4 bridges are lit up – Millennium, Southwark, Cannon Street & London Bridges. So I had a lovely walk along the South Bank one evening looking at those.
The great thing is that they’ve collaborated with VocalEyes to produce audio described tracks for each of the bridges, plus an introduction to the project itself. So I listened to the tracks for each of the 4 bridges during my walk. They’re really good too, as you learn a bit about the history of each bridge and get a good description of the lighting effects, accompanied by some specially written music. So it really adds to the whole experience nicely.
I’ve highlighted a couple more email scams this month – one for Apple iCloud and another for Netflix. I discovered that the iCloud scam was written by someone who calls themselves Spyus, and upon seeing my post they immediately took their site down, although they quickly brought it back online again. Their Facebook profile and Youtube channel are also still active, which I’ve reported in the hope that they’ll get taken down. Please do report those pages and their posts as well if you can, for as long as they remain active. Any slight disruption to the business of such lonely attention-seeking criminals is a good thing.
Monty Python Box Set
The big purchase and binge-watch for me this month has been Monty Python’s Flying Circus – Norwegian Blu-ray Edition. This boxset has been released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the classic TV sketch show, and features all 4 series completely restored in HD. All 4 series are also being released as individual volumes, but I bought this special box set for the discounted price of £90 when they first opened pre-orders (it’s now £100).
It’s an incredible leap in quality from the old DVDs. Shows from that era are never going to look as clear and sharp as modern programmes, of course, but these new versions are substantially better than they were, with noticeably cleaner images and vastly improved colours. They’ve used original tapes as much as possible, and it’s hard to believe the BBC nearly wiped them. Thank god the Pythons got hold of them and saved them.
The shows are uncut as well, so bits that were originally censored have been restored – including the infamous reference to masturbation in the All-England Summarize Proust Competition, which the BBC demanded they cut at the time (while allowing a reference to strangling animals to remain). That resulted in some rather clunky edits at that point in the sketch over the years, but now you can see and hear it as originally intended.
Alongside the episodes are a load of outtakes, extended sketches and other footage that were found on the tapes, both from the studio recordings and location filming. So they’re all very interesting to look at. There’s also a hidden extra for nearly all of the episodes too. Look closely at your player and you’ll see each show starts on chapter 2, at least 30 seconds in. If you hit the relevant button on your remote to skip back to chapter 1, you’ll see the studio clock counting down to the start of the recording, sometimes with a bit of banter and laughter going on. They’re not an essential addition, but they’re worth glancing at out of curiosity, and their inclusion is a nice touch by Network.
On top of that, there’s also rare interview footage, some special product launch films that the team made for companies like Birds Eye, and a look at the restoration with Terry Gilliam (that Youtube video is an extract from a longer feature on the Blu-ray). Plus you get an extremely detailed book for each series, going into incredible depth about how all the episodes were made. I haven’t read them, because it’s just too much for me to go through with my visual impairment, but die-hard Python fans will love them.
It’s all packaged inside a big box with lovely artwork by Terry Gilliam. In typical Python fashion they call it an ‘exploding’ box, which in reality means it’s a big cube, the sides of which are held up by the lid on top. So when you take the lid off, the sides all fall down, revealing the artwork and discs inside. It makes it a little bit fiddly to get back on again, and the box won’t sit neatly on some people’s shelves I expect. But it looks great, so it’s well worth it as far as I’m concerned. I have seen a few reports of the box becoming a bit damaged in transit, particularly the cardboard slots inside that hold the disc cases, but my box was fine, thankfully.
I’ve also been rewatching all of the other Monty Python discs in my collection as well – the films, live shows and documentaries – to celebrate their 50th anniversary in a truly thorough manner, which I’ve really enjoyed doing, as some of it I haven’t seen for ages.
To find out more about the Blu-ray box set, see the product page, promo video and the tweet thread by British Comedy Guide. Monty Python have also released a new music video recently too, called I’m (Still) So Worried), which is a remix of the demo version of the song. It’s one of many videos they’ve been posting on their Youtube channel to mark the 50th anniversary, so it’s worth looking through them.
Other Comedy Purchases
There were other comedies worth buying this month as well though. And on a slightly Python related note, the first one to mention is the new Blu-ray set of Fawlty Towers. This is basically a copy of the original Remastered DVD, just upscaled a bit for Blu-ray. It has the same excellent bonus features as the DVD, and retains the audio menu navigation and audio description for the episodes. So if you’re not too fussed about upgrading from the DVD, you’re not missing out on a lot by keeping it. But I was happy to do the upgrade, and I think the show does look a little bit better in HD.
Next, I bought Dad’s Army – The Lost Episodes on Blu-ray. The BBC wiped many episodes of Dad’s Army, as part of its old policy to reuse tapes, and 3 have never since been recovered. So Gold remade them earlier this year with new cast members, based on the original scripts, and they were pretty good. So I’m happy to add them to my collection, as replacements for the original versions. You can see my TV review of these new episodes in my July & August Favourites.
I also bought The Big Bang Theory – Season 12 on Blu-ray to complete my collection of that show. They went out on a high, including a fantastic finale, so it’ll be nice to watch those again. I haven’t gone through them yet, I’ll probably save it until the new year now, but when I do I’ll give a little review of the extra features in a later Favourites post.
Finally I bought Sunset Milk Idiot on DVD, the latest stand-up show by Tim Vine. I haven’t watched it yet, so I’ll review it in a later Favourites post, but it’s got various extras including an audio commentary and other random things. Also, if you like Time Vine, check out his new Youtube channel called Tim Vine Televisual (TVTV), where he’s uploading a new short video once a week for a year, again in his typically random style.
A new comedy I tried on TV this month was The Cockfields. It’s a 3-part sitcom starring Joe Wilkinson and Diane Morgan as a couple called Simon and Donna. Simon is taking Donna to see his slightly mad family on the Isle Of Wight for the first time, and he’s very anxious about not wanting her to be put off by them. And of course, things soon get very awkward and frustrating to put that to the test.
I only really know Joe Wilkinson from 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown, where he always acts inappropriately, so this was a very different role for him. and it works well. Diane Morgan is best known for her character Philomena Cunk from Charlie Brooker’s Wipe shows, and Cunk has a new review of the year out this Christmas which will be fun to watch. So seeing Diane playing a straight role in this sitcom has been great too.
The show also stars Bobby Ball, Sue Johnston, Ben Rufus Green, Sarah Parish, Nigel Havers, Jeff Mirza and Maggie Steed, so there’s some quite big names in there. And I’m glad I gave it a go. It’s not something I’d buy on DVD, but was worth watching as a one-off.
Apart from that, I’ve also been enjoying the same programmes I usually enjoy, including the new series of Michael McIntyre’s Big Show and Live At The Apollo, along with the return of Mock The Week from its mid-season break. I also discovered the second series of Vic & Bob’s Big Night Out on BBC Four, having not noticed the first series. They’re still as mad as always!
It was also confirmed this month that Taskmaster is moving to Channel 4. Which is a shame for the Dave channel, that deserved to keep the show it helped make famous, but hopefully Channel 4 will look after it. The show’s creator Alex Horne has promised that the format will not change, and Greg Davies has also expressed his thanks to UKTV. There were also nice tweets in response by the Dave channel and UKTV’s publicity manager. Check out this list of 10 interesting facts about the show too, it’s quite interesting.
Finally, I also bought some new music releases this month as well, starting with The Rolling Stones – Bridges To Buenos Aires on Blu-ray. It’s another brilliant live concert, one of many I now have in my collection by the band. Mick Jagger is a fantastic performer, he has a great chemistry with the rest of the band, and they always vary the setlist with each show, so it’s always worth adding their concerts to my collection.
I also bought the new album From Out Of Nowhere by Jeff Lynne’s ELO, which is great. You know what you’re getting with ELO, because Jeff Lynne never disappoints. He also did another great BBC Radio 2 Concert to promote it, playing many of his classic hits as well as songs from the new album.
And there was also a surprise new song by Madness, which takes a pop at the establishment, called The Bullingdon Boys. So that was a fun treat.
So there you go. Well done if you made it this far, as that was quite a packed month! I’ve loved getting out and about again like I used to and enjoying so many new things in the run-up to Christmas. I’ll have plenty to tell you about for my Christmas Favourites in the new year as well.
I will try to do one or two posts between Christmas and New Year, as I do have things in mind I want to publish if I get the time. But this will probably be my last post before Christmas Day. So let me take this opportunity to wish you all the best for the festive season.
I hope you have a wonderful time, whatever you’re doing and whoever you’re spending it with. I’ve already had a Christmas meal with a local social group, and had a lovely day out with a friend that included an exchange of Christmas cards, plus I’m visiting my work colleagues for our office Christmas dinner very soon. Then I’ll be spending the holiday itself with Mum as usual.
If it’s a tough time of year for you, however, then you have my sympathies. Do reach out to family, friends, support organisations, etc if you need help or someone to talk to during the holiday. And on social media, don’t forget that Sarah Millican will be running her Christmas Day #JoinIn Social on Twitter for the 9th year in a row, which just goes to sh ow how successful it is.
In any case, I hope you all have a lovely Christmas, and are able to relax and recharge ready for the year ahead.
Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays! 🙂